MINT Gallery Exhibit Explores The Ongoing Life Of Trash

Myke Johns / WABE

Putting furniture on the curb — most of us have seen it, some of us have done it, and a few of us may have even picked up a well-worn coffee table or desk chair off the side of the road. Atlanta artist Lauren Michelle Peterson is exploring these objects left on the sidewalk in a solo show at the MINT Gallery, titled “on Going.”

The work is installed on the second floor of downtown’s Flatiron Building. The big windows overlooking the intersection of Peachtree Street and Auburn Avenue let in a lot of sunlight … which is currently falling on a massive structure made of lashed-together sofa cushions, children’s car seats, bar stools, box fans and much more.

Looking at all this stuff piled almost to the ceiling, it all starts to kind of blend together.

“Once you put things on the curb, we can no longer talk about them for their use function,” Peterson said. ”They all become the same thing, they all become the same object.”

Namely: trash. The pieces in the gallery are all made of found objects that Peterson pulled from the side of the road and is inspired by what she calls the “incidental compositions” of curbside refuse.

“The objects have a history to them,” she said. “These are sort of the artifacts of our everyday life. So they’re a representation of that moment in time where [people say] ‘I can’t take this anymore, I have to get it out of my house.’” Peterson said she’s fascinated by that psychological element.

By taking these objects that people so desperately got rid of and making them the focal point of the work, Peterson said that she is revealing something unseen. And this goes back to this idea that once something hits the curb, it kind of becomes just another piece of trash that we tend to block out of our view. A smaller piece features a TV screen showing sped-up footage of a derelict couch sitting on Ponce De Leon Avenue. 

“I’m acting like I’m stalking the different trash that’s on the side of the road … like a nature video!” she said, laughing.

“I’m just trying to communicate that everything is the same,” Peterson said. “This TV that the video is being shown on could just as easily become trash the way that the other objects are. ”

It brings to mind the way some people think about death: we all die, everyone’s body eventually returns to the earth, we’re all made of the same stuff. Even the exhibit’s name: “on Going” suggests a sort of death. And transposing those concepts to the refuse we create does — like death — bring up similar revelations about geography and class.

Squeezed into the narrow passage between her artwork and the windows overlooking Woodruff Park, Peterson says her work could be be taken as commentary on Atlanta.

“I’ve picked up trash in plenty of neighborhoods in Atlanta!” she said, “and it is very different depending what neighborhood you go into as far as what you find. So I got a lot of feedback from people who live north of the city, saying ‘Oh you’d never be able to do that in my neighborhood, because it’s a more wealthy neighborhood.’ And so neighborhood associations don’t allow you to put stuff like that on the side of the road. But I live in East Atlanta, a lot of this stuff is from East Atlanta, Grant Park, Candler Park, that area. And it’s an unspoken thing: you put it out and sometimes people take it. Which is good because that means it’s being used.”

So there is a hint of an environmentalist tone to her work, but Peterson insisted that her focus is on the philosophical ramifications of what this is doing to our mentality and our presence in the world.

“We’re living with disposables,” she said. “It’s so ingrained into our rituals and our culture that it’s just completely different, the way that we handle and think about objects.”

After the show closes, the life of these objects will continue. Some will be recycled, but much of Peterson’s found material will be stored for future use in her artwork.

“I mean, there’s some killer couch cushions in there that I just can’t give up!” she said. 

Lauren Peterson’s exhibit “on Going” is part of the MINT Gallery’s Leap Year mentorship and studio program meant to develop up and coming artists. It is on view at the Flatiron Building through Saturday, Oct. 15. Peterson will give an artist talk on the 15th at 4 p.m.

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